Is India ready for the fourth Industrial Revolution?

The Fourth Industrial revolution has made a mark in the way technology is being experienced at work and in everyday life. As per Prof. Klaus Schwab’s book on the topic, breakthroughs have occurred through artificial intelligence (AI), robotics (machine learning), nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum computing, the blockchain, the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing, etc.

The first industrial revolution was the shift from human labor to mechanical power through the use of water and steam power. While the second industrial revolution propelled the growth of mass production with the use of electrical power. Electronics, information technology, and automated manufacturing led to the third industrial revolution.

Industry 4.0 will lead to convergence of real and the virtual world. It aims at creating a cyber-physical system through the use of ‘smart factory’. Industry 4.0 will also attract a massive prospect of converting ‘Online to offline’ and ‘offline to online’ (O2O).

How ready is India for facing the fourth Industrial revolution?

Though the government is getting ready for the future through programmes like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Skill India,’ parts of the country are experiencing the second industrial revolution and are far away from the third one. As per the World Bank, 15.5 percent population of India still does not have access to electricity which translates to 8.5 crore people. In absolute numbers, India has the second largest internet using population (behind China) with 462 million users as of January 2018. However, that’s only 26 per cent of the population. The country can’t lead the industrial revolution and drive the change towards the advancement of fourth industrial revolution without the penetration of electricity and internet.

India’s current growth model is not sustainable as the primary sector (Agriculture) employs 51% of the workforce contributes only 12% of the GDP. The industry-related (secondary) sector employs 22% and contributes 28% of the GDP.  27% of the working population employed in the service sector (tertiary) contribute towards 60% the GDP.

The service sector which is highly dependent on information technology and outsourced work of the western world is also at high risk as evidenced by the dot-com bubble burst and Lehman shock. To have stronger growth, India needs to strengthen the manufacturing sector by using the latest technology and material such as 3D printing, nanotechnology, precision mechanical device, integrated circuits, medical imaging devices.

What are its implications for the jobs and the employees?

The fourth industrial revolution with the massive use of artificial intelligence (AI) will take away more human jobs. In the next decade, around 20% of the jobs including ones like firefighters, clergy, photography will be affected by robotization. Similarly, 80-90% of the jobs of taxi drivers, fisherman, bakers, and fast food workers are likely to be replaced by technology.

The most impacted segment will be the jobs of models, referee, judicial scrivener, and telemarketers; 90-100 % of which will not require human intervention. However, automation will also create new demand for non-routinized knowledge work. While there will be demand for a smaller number of highly skilled knowledge workers, there will be a demand for simple service workers.

Employees must focus on skilling themselves by developing the competencies beyond their role. Trade unions must shed their opposition to automation and focus on skill development. Instead of demanding job protection, the focus must be on lifelong learning plan and training budget of the employees. While ensuring skill development for the young population is the growing need of the Indian population, trade unions have a more significant role in making sure that social security issues are taken care of.

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